Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Fish for dinner?

The other day, I got up early to do some yoga before school.  While I was in corpse pose, I had my hands on my chest and felt a lump in my left breast.  It felt big, it felt scary, and it came from NOWHERE.  I do regular self-exams in the shower so I have no idea how something so big could just appear.  That day after school I went to the hospital.  That's what you do in China.  You don't book an appointment with a doctor, you just show up at a hospital, take a number, and hope for the best.

First, I went to St. Luke's which was recommended by a coworker.  Upon entering the hospital, I was given a number and told to go to another counter to pay where they gave me a hospital card and instructed me to go to the second floor.  I went to the second floor, wandered around and finally found a room with a doctor and walked in. She felt my breast for a few seconds and then said "operation."  I asked, via my Iphone Chinese dictionary app, if perhaps they should do some tests first.  Then, I went to another room for an ultrasound.  Then back to the other doctor.  "Operation."  That's all she could say.  So......

I went to another hospital.  They asked me if I wanted VIP foreigner service, which was 3 times more expensive, or regular.  I said regular and then a mean looking man said in English  "You should pay the higher fees because if I or another Chinese person needed medical care in your country, we would have to pay higher fees."  I said that I wanted the regular service.  So I got in to see a doctor and he told me that the hospital was closing in 10 minutes and they had no time to see me. The hospital closes at 4pm. Who knew? I left in tears.

The next day was Saturday and the hospitals are closed on weekends. Closed!

My ex-boyfriend arranged to have his personal assistant, Monica, come with me on Monday morning to The International Peace Maternity and Child Health Hospital of the China Welfare Institute.  The best hospital for women's health in Shanghai and government run.  We met at 8:00am when the hospital opened. I took a number. Number 61. The whole place was chaos and a complete zoo.  Huge groups of women standing in front of large screens everywhere waiting for their number to be called.  When they call your number, it comes up on the screen with your number, your full NAME and what you are there for!  No privacy.

Wait, wait, wait.  Finally get in to see a doctor. Another woman pushes into the room and consults the doctor.  I said that it was my turn. Doesn't matter for some reason.  Finally speak to the doctor. She feels my breast for a few seconds and says "operation." Again! That word! "Do I need a test first?"  "Yes, an ultrasound. Come back at 2:00."

I do. I get the ultrasound, which seems much more professional this time around, except for the continuous flow of people through the room and the curtain wide open.  Go back to see the doctor with the results. She says it is a tumor and that I need to have it removed and tested for cancer.  I ask if I can get a biopsy instead.  If I am going to have surgery and get the tumor removed, I would prefer to do that in Canada because if it is indeed cancer as they will need to know what they are dealing with.  "Biopsy, yes, come back tomorrow at 1:30."  She prints something out for me and Monica and I go to pay for the biopsy. It's 700 RMB, a little over $100 Canadian.  Then, we have to go downstairs to the pharmacy to buy the medicine/drugs, whatever, that will be used in my biopsy.  I buy the medications and bring them home with me in a baggie to bring to my appointment tomorrow.

Tomorrow is Today:  I go to meet Monica at 1:30, the time given for my biopsy.  When we get to the 4th floor, the Outpatient procedure area, a loud and rough woman grabs my papers and scribbles "B9" on the front. Go to waiting room and wait. We wait for three hours in that waiting room. It is crazy.  There is a big screen to announce when it is your turn and yes, it says your number, your name, and what procedure you are there for. Most of the other women are there for abortions. They sit and wait, like me, with a bag or handful of medications AND a maxi-pad and their medical history booklets. 

I can't believe it when I see woman after woman have their name announced to the world and that they are there for an ABORTION. In BIG LETTERS ON THE BIG BIG SCREEN.  The men are not allowed in the waiting room and have to stand behind a roped off area. Anytime one of them dares to venture into the waiting area, the loud and rough woman in a brown suit barks at them loudly to get back behind the rope. Young girls come out clutching their abdomens and looking like hell, being held up by the nurse and/or a friend or family member.  A name comes up on the screen in English. Everyone looks at me. It's not me, but I can recognize the Chinese characters for abortion and I feel relief that I'm not there for that.

Finally, it is my turn. I go into another waiting room. Told to remove my shoes and shoved along roughly by a very very large woman dressed in white and a shower cap.  She looks like she hates me.  I change into the flip flops they provide and move to another waiting room. I'm given some pink pajamas to put on and I have to change right there in front of about four other women.  Then I am told to go wait on a blue vinyl sofa outside the operating room.  I sit there for about another half hour. While I am sitting there, I am witness to all kinds of horrors that are usually kept from us in the Western hospital/medical experience.  I hear loud and violent vomiting in the room next to me.  A woman walks by with a trolley with a large vat on it filled with a murky and bloody looking fluid. I pray that I am not seeing the material that was suctioned out of the uteri of the young girls I have been waiting with.
seeing all afternoon. 
D011 is having an abortion.
It is my turn to go into the scary operating room with large metal door that slams loudly when it opens and shuts. I go in and there is a table with stirrups. There is a garbage bag spread out on the lower half of the bed. I'm not kidding.  There are bloody footprints on the floor. Again, not kidding.  The nurse's uniform is spattered with blood.  I lay down, open my shirt and they prepare the battlefield.  They tell me they will now administer the local anesthetic. It hurts.  I close my eyes and think of my last trip to Thailand and the blue water and the beach and the sand and the sun. I hum to myself and try so very very hard not to be scared and not to cry.  I have no idea what to expect.  I open my eyes for a moment and catch a glimpse of the biopsy "needle" which looks like a sharp, and pointy metal light saber.  He starts.  He jabs it in and then it makes a loud clicking sound. The nurse makes a noise like "huh?" He takes the needle out and starts fiddling around with it. Like someone fiddling around with a broken lighter. He keeps on like that for a minute or so and then it seems to start working properly again.  He jabs it in again. This time, it makes a loud clicking sound again but it sounds different and the nurse seems relieved. It's working. Oh good.
A mobile phone rings. Another nurse answers it, speaks for a moment and then holds the phone up to the doctor's ear while the needle is still deep in my breast. He talks for a minute or so about whether or not to buy fish and how many he wants.  I can understand enough Chinese to get the gist.
Afterward, they wrap my chest up like a mummy and tell me to wait thirty minutes for the results. 

The tumor turns out to be malignant. I learn a new Chinese word: e xing - malignant, wicked, vicious, producing evil, rapid decline. 


  1. So happy you are home baby. The circumstances suck, however.

    I feel like mailing that Dr a big dead fish head, that can eat him.

  2. You poor sweet thing. I am so glad you are home too. Not knowing you, but going through breast cancer myself this year, I read your blog with horror. I have been blogging my experience from day one too. It is interesting how we both chose the same template for our blogs. I'm sending you a message on the Crazy Sexy Cancer message board.

    My best to you... sending strength, wisdom, patience...


  3. What a terrible experience to go through but I am glad that you are home with Theresa now.

  4. What a horrific story! I'm so sorry to hear that you're sick. But you'll be fine breast cancer is totally treatable. Hang in there.